Eva is a 2011 Spanish film by Kike Maíllo, usually considered to be science fiction. Outwardly it deals with robotics and one sees several animated robots in it with various roles from receptionist to pet; but to me, this feels like showing off. There is nevertheless a poetical aspect to them as they can be switched off by saying “What do you see when you close your eyes?”
Then there is Max, the perfect human-looking robotic butler, cook and cleaner, brilliantly played by Lluís Homar, who proactively takes care of everything in the house without needing any orders and can even adapt his emotional level to suit his client’s tastes; however, his personality seems too perfect and predictable to capture our interest.
There are also several discussions about science between the adult human characters: Julia (Anne Canovas), director of the robotics research program, Álex (Daniel Brühl), the scientist who strayed from the project for ten years, his brother David (Alberto Ammann), and Lana (Marta Etura), Álex’s former love now living with David. To a large extent, I find their talk pedantic, it looks like the script writers and the director know nothing about science, research and the people who make a living doing it.
Besides robotics, there is a bit of adult romance, with a love triangle between the two brothers and the woman they both love. However, I find this aspect of the film a pointless distraction from the real story.
So, where does the interest of this movie lie? In Eva, it is the fascinating and beautiful ten-year-old girl played by Claudia Vega and her complex relationship with Álex. Her name appears fifth in the opening credits, but deserves to be first (or at least second, after Brühl), since she is in fact central to the film. The first image is of Claudia Vega as Eva.
Here goes the story; the year is 2041. After ten years of absence abroad, Álex returns to Spain to resume his project of a new-generation robot indistinguishable from a human being. He is greeted by his brother David and meets again his colleague and former love Lana, who is now with David. After visiting Julia’s laboratory at the university and discussing it with her, Álex decides to work on his project in his late father’s house outside town, which has a lab in the basement. There he gets Max to take care of his material needs. Looking for a model for his robot, he meets Eva in the street. Being invited to dine at Lana’s home, he discovers that Eva is in fact her daughter. Here we see Eva with Lana.
In the following days, Eva bicycles to his house, and he works on experiments with her in his lab, measuring her emotional reactions to design the psychology of his new robot. Here, Eva is inside Álex’s lab.
Álex becomes attached to her. After flirting with Lana followed by a fight with the jealous David, Lana visits Álex in his lab and reveals that during his ten-year absence, she completed his robot project, and that Eva is the result—a robot, not a girl. But Eva is listening from a window just above the basement. This shot shows Eva listening.
Panicked at the revelation, Eva flees to the mountains where she has a battery failure and becomes unconscious. Lana finds her and replaces the battery. Waking up, Eva feels betrayed and, still panicked, pushes Lana over a cliff and runs back to Álex’s house where Max takes care of her. Then Julia comes and tells Álex that when Eva was built, she did not pass the security tests, so was supposed to be deactivated, but Lana took the initiative of halting the procedure so Eva could live with her. Julia insists that Eva must be switched off, saying that she is not a human being and that “she did not hesitate to kill Lana”. Álex answers that he will do it himself.
The most interesting part of the film comes on the last day. Álex greets Eva with, “Good morning, princess”. After an outing with Max to go skating and see the mountains, Eva tells Álex “I want to become a gentle little girl” before their return home. The final scene has a strong erotic undercurrent; in the lab, Eva takes Álex by the hand, goes to a bed, takes off her shoes and lies down on it. Holding Álex’s hand, she tells him how Lana used to read her a tale from the Arabian Nights about a princess marked for death by her prince thwarting execution by reciting endless stories to him night after night. Eva falls into Álex’s arms, begging for his protection when he says the fateful sentence, “What do you see when you close your eyes?”; she collapses and dreams about being in a family with Álex and Lana.
In the relationship between Álex and Eva, there are allusions to a “predator” theme. The first time they meet, as he watches her from his car, she jokingly calls him a pervert; when he gives her a single piece of candy, she jests that he is a “professional pervert”. Her tale is also suggestive of Little Red Riding Hood; first, because she wears a red cloak, but also because in visiting Álex in his lab, she disobeys Lana’s order never to leave town with her bike. Here, Eva is seen wearing her red cloak.
Director Kike Maíllo gave several interviews to French and Spanish cinema journals and one can get an idea of his views about the mind and behaviour of Eva; I have translated some excerpts from a few French ones.
In an interview with Cinespagne, the journalist mentions that Eva:
“…is a woman in the body of a little girl”, and Maíllo says, “It is a character difficult to define, since one never knows where she stands. Is she flirting with Álex or is she having a friendship?”
In Films-horreur.com, the journalist mentions that “the relationship between Eva and Álex is rather peculiar” and Maíllo says:
“Álex, the programmer, is looking for a model for his child robot and he finally chooses Eva, who is not really a 10-year-old little girl. Anyway, the jokes that she throws at him and her actions (verging on flirtation) are not those of a girl her age. Her character is written as a woman in the body of a child—a Lolita in some way.”
On Fantasy.fr, he says:
“But because she is a woman in the body of a child, she is a Lolita. She is clearly not a child as one would think…For me, Álex is not interested in children; they bore him. When he sees them at the university, he remains indifferent. It is just because she is very special; she speaks like an adult. She is able to understand and play with the word ‘pervert’ just like an adult. This is something that you would hear from the mouth of a 16-year-old adolescent, not of a 10-year-old girl.”
These words illustrate the relentless tendency of our culture to incapacitate and desexualize young people at ever increasing ages. In reality, children are very curious about sexuality; they gather whatever information they can from playground talk or the internet. Long ago, I personally heard an 8-year-old make a sensible jest about “dykes”. Moreover, at age 10, children are able to elaborate rational judgments, and their sexual orientation is to a large extent established. Hence adults are regularly astonished by the feats of preteens, in awe and wonder at an 11-year-old who behaved responsibly as a rational adult in a critical situation, explaining afterward that she just did what she had learned, or a 13-year-old who performed good scientific research leading to real applications; but conversely, adults become both frightened and fascinated by so-called “Lolitas”, girls who express their natural sexuality.
In all pre-industrial cultures, teenagers were treated as adults and in many “primitive” societies, children at around age 10 underwent initiations, often painful, in order to mark their passage into adulthood. In fact, there is nothing abnormal in Eva’s behaviour with Álex; she is just an intelligent and autonomous girl.
Another problem is the harshness of the decision to terminate Eva because, as a humanoid robot, she is “dangerous” and committed a homicide. Indeed, sometimes children accidentally or intentionally kill people, but they are not killed in return. Are artificially intelligent beings not given the same human rights?
In an interview with Abus de Ciné, Maíllo states,
“In my film, the point of view is always carried by the humans, on the capacity to forget that one is facing a machine—above all, if one wants to create a link, a relationship. In ‘A.I.’, this point of view goes very far. It lets us think that a day will come when machines will be so evolved that they will be able to have feelings. Personally, I don’t believe it. They will always be characters; they play roles, deceive us, imitate us. They are only reflections.”
One sees here that the director really thinks of artificial humans like Eva as inherently soulless and defective and that they could never be like humans. In fact, they are deviant, thus they do not deserve a human life. Eva’s abnormality, confirmed at the end, was suggested at an earlier moment in the film, when she takes psychological tests and we see that she does not correctly interpret emotions in human faces—a bit like autistics.
In Steven Spielberg’s film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the robot child was considered defective by humans, but he was finally redeemed as humanity became extinct and were replaced by robots. There is no such prospect for Eva.
Deviance was first identified and persecuted under religious authority, using the term heresy. The heretic seems pious, but is not, since he actually serves the Devil. Only the orthodox can be a good person. The orthodox sins despite his faith, while the heretic sins because of his perverse belief. Later on, the clergy was replaced in part by psychiatry (as explained by Thomas Szasz), and the deviant became the madman, then the sexual pervert; the latter idea took other names such as sexual psychopath, predator or paraphiliac. His vice has evolved through the last two centuries, from masturbation to homosexuality and finally to pedophilia. The sexual deviant does not feel love, but only lust. The orthodox heterosexual seeks happiness, falls in love and engages in courtship; the deviant seeks sexual gratification, targets a victim and engages in selfish grooming and manipulation. Sex crimes committed by the orthodox are just individual cases of anti-social behaviours; the same crimes committed by the deviant are supposedly an expression of his true perverted nature.
So deviants are to be removed from society, the religious heretics were burned and the sexual ones are locked up (sometimes remaining so after serving their sentences), or subjected to chemical castration; and robots can simply be switched off. However, as Alex Proyas’ film I, Robot showed magisterially, perfect obedience and conformity on the part of robots leads to tyranny, so robotic deviance is necessary to preserve freedom. I guess the same holds for human beings.
The great mathematician Alan Turing, who during World War II helped crack the secret codes of the German Navy and invented the principles of computers—and proving the extent of their limitations—also discussed the intelligence of machines. He proposed the “Turing Test” which stated that a machine interacting with humans—that is indistinguishable from a human being—must have intelligence; he answered the numerous objections to the idea of a machine’s mind. Incidentally, he was a sexual deviant by the standards in the UK of the fifties and he was convicted for homosexual behaviour. In order to avoid prison, he was forced to undergo chemical castration before later committing suicide.
A film critique (in French) by Olivier Bachelard in Abus de Ciné says about the character of Eva:
“However the latter does not appear sufficiently ambiguous to make us adhere to an idea of potential danger.” It concludes, “…a tension that rises progressively, without reaching for peaks. It is there that the film disappoints somewhat. By excessive gentility, it remains inside political correctness, engenders little suspense and remains within the domain of gentle illustration, despite its discourse about latent violence. It is as though maybe someone used the famous reinitialization sentence on the director, ‘What do you see when you close your eyes?’. One would have liked to see a real thriller. They preferred to offer us a little film targeting families. One comes away a little bit disappointed, but subjugated by some images.”
Indeed, in some ways Kike Maíllo spoiled his own film by remaining stuck to the infantilizing “family” style and not daring to challenge current prejudices about everything that is not “normal”. Here, we see Eva approaching Álex’s lab.
Video interview of Kike Maíllo in AlloCiné (in English with French subtitles, and commentary in French).
Two comments. I have watched this film a few times and always found a couple of problems though I loved the film. I never understood why Eva had to be terminated as it was so obvious that she in a panic if just finding out herself she wasn’t human pushed her mother away, never intentionally wanting to harm her. In my mind it was a total accident.
The plot failures where suspend disbelief applies… Robots don’t age so how did Eva or the people around her account for a girl of 10 being so for 10 years or are we supposed to believe she grew? Eva as an intelligent being would have wondered about this. I had to overlook this great ambiguity in the plot in order to enjoy the movie.
that said, thus movie goes on my all time movies with sad endings concerning children list.
The category of movie mentioned at the end of Japonaliya’s post instantly reminded me of “Angela”, a movie with very beautiful little girl scenes and an extremely sad ending.
I didn’t mind the spoilers in the post for The Coca-Cola Kid. They add to the understanding of a story you can watch over and over again. Here, they really live up to their name of spoiler. This is information I don’t want before watching the movie. I’m glad I’d seen the movie first.
In the post, you talked about children being both child and adult. I don’t know if this is over the line. While doing volunteer work at a school, a 10yo girl had carved her lip balm into a penis, called it a boner, applied it to her lips, then fellated it a couple of times. It was so kid-like and adult at the same time. It was a very proto-sexual event. The child was obviously inexperience, but had gained some sexual knowledge and was flirting with her developing sexuality. When viewed from the proper perspective, it was humourous, but I’m sure there are disturbed people who would see it as perverted.
Your deviants discussion is getting off topic but oh so close to my own views. Those Perverted Puritans create deviants to bolster their own superiority.
I did not “talk about children being both child and adult”. I quoted the director saying that Eva talks like a 16-y-o, not a 10-y-o, then commented that contemporary society infantilizes children and adolescent at ever increasing ages, treating children as toddlers and adolescents as children. In previous societies it was not so, young people were driven to do adult things much earlier, there was no adolescence nor adolescence crisis, you were considered as an adult around age 14. Human beings are biologically programmed to be treated as grown-ups at age 14. I consider that a 10-y-o is not really a child, but a youth. The current motto “let kids be kids” is just an infantilizing metaphysical absurdity, since the purpose of childhood is its own negation: children must grow fast and cease to be children; that is why they love to imitate adults and to be allowed to do adult things, that is the natural way of growing up.
The discussion of deviance is not off topic. Although the film does not openly discuss deviance, the hidden assumption is that intelligent robots are creepy deviants and must be suppressed. I know that deviance and creepiness have taken many forms during the centuries, and that institutions devoted to their suppression evolved too, so I can recognize the discourse of deviance being recycled into ever new forms.
There was an interesting comment on the French translation of this post on Agapeta: nowadays people consider children as robots. Indeed, they want children to be perfect and to do everything they are being told. As said the commenter, you are a heretic if you treat a child as a real person, that is a deviance.
Great review and seems like an interesting film. I’ll see it.
Thanks. The film is fascinating, despite the criticism. I have translated the post in French on Agapeta, which seems natural to me, as all articles quoted here are in French, thus the quotes I give here are in fact my English translations.
Three things came to mind while reading this piece worth mentioning.
1) I feel as though the director is hiding behind the premise of an adult in a girl’s body to justify the seductive behavior instead of acknowledging the range of a girl’s natural sexuality. What I don’t know is if these quotes are simply to placate mainstream critics or if he is in fact naive about the character of young girls himself.
2) Regarding initiation rituals, I find it important to point out there is a distinct difference between boys and girls. Boys, when they become a bit “unmanageable” in the domestic setting, are abducted by the men and subjected to bodily mutilation (usually scarification or tattooing) to signify their introduction to manhood. From then on, he spends his time with the men learning the duties of men in that society. Girls, on the other hand, have a more natural initiation triggered by the onset of menstruation. In that case, her entry into womanhood is a more contemplative one (perhaps sitting in a hut and considering what she has become) as she recognizes her new role as a potential vessel of new life.
3) The suggestion of AI rights seems laughable now considering that basic human rights is not even extended to all human beings at present. But I am reminded of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where a scientist wants to experiment on Data (an android serving in Starfleet). A trial in conducted in which the question of whether Data has a right to refuse to participate. The most touching quote is one which suggests that humanity will one day be judged by the way it treats others including these creations of its genius.
(1) I don’t know… maybe the seductive behaviour is part of her robotic deviance.
(2) I read (I think it was by the anthropologist Marvin Harris) that the initiation of boys was based on enduring pain (torture, scarification or circumcision), while that of girls was based on enduring boredom (being locked in the dark for a month), I guess it is a preparation for the gendered roles of warrior and housewife.
(3) We do not have real AI conscious beings now, so their rights is not on the table now. But if we can make them one day, or if we meet sentient E.T.’s from other worlds, the issue will have to be considered. I tend to think that “an injury to one is an injury to all”, so disrespect for the rights of some humans or of some non-human intelligent beings, will ultimately lead to the trampling of the rights of all.
This is an excellent review!
Also, the subject matter reminds me of “Small Wonder”, a series in the 1980’s on American TV. It was about a little girl robot named V.I.C.I. (pronounced “Vicky”).